Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Ellen Page-Robin
Dr. Thomas Van Valev
Dr. Lewis Walker
Dr. Gwen Raaberg
The youth-based, patriarchal culture in which we live bestows valuable status, power and prestige upon young, beautiful women. Within the standards of this society, the natural aging process progressively deteriorates a woman's beauty, and, therefore, her social worth. A vast network of media and societal messages prompt middle-aged women to react to this devaluation. Several pathways or behavioral alternatives are available as reactions, adaptive reconstructions, and/or the medicalization of the aging process in women. The goal of this sociological/gerontological exploratory research is to identify, examine, label, and categorize the multiple options available to midlife women.
The primary method used for this study is a literary analysis of available material pertinent to the topic of female aging beauty. An extensive review of the literature resulted in the extraction of twelve fundamental integrated findings.
The secondary method consisted of in-depth interviews with a small group of Caucasian, midlife women, ages 45 to 55. The perception of the loss of beauty with age was categorized into four main divisions in concert with the literature review. These four divisions, which were formatted into a preliminary organizational chart, are: (1) redefinition, or the alteration of beauty definitions; (2) resignation, or accepting the consequences of the beauty myth; (3) rebellion, or the abandonment of the beauty myth; (4) reconstruction, or fighting age.
The conclusion determined that, in accordance with the theoretical basis of Cooley's Looking Glass Self, the issue of Mirror ownership (source of reflection, being self-owned, other-owned, or societally-owned) and its perceived accuracy is essential to pathway selection. This prompted the revision of the organizational chart into a flow chart which more succinctly presents the choices available to women at midlife. It initially appears as if women in this study who claim ownership of more than half of their Mirror are happier with their aging process and more able to fight off negative societal messages and ageist perceptions. Future research is strongly urged in this area.
Bluhm, Sheila Marie, "Aging Beauty: The Adaptive Reconstruction of the Aging Process in Women" (2001). Dissertations. 1436.